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Old 07-23-2007, 01:28 PM   #1
Pat McCarthy
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Default Pull-Up Development

I've recently begun to focus heavily on my pull-up form and endurance as I felt my pressing was being limited by weakness in my upper back (by recently I mean within the last 12 months). I've seen great progress, and it has paid dividends in my pressing, but I am having some problems with my pull-ups.

I'm a stickler on range of motion and feel I am short-changing myself whenever I do not perform each rep perfectly. However, with pull-ups, after 5 or 6 reps, I find it almost impossible to get the last 2-3 inches of the movement (I can't seem to get the bar all the way to my chest). I feel this is due to weakness in my middle upper back and I was wondering if anybody has some suggestions on how to develop that final portion of the pull.
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Old 07-23-2007, 03:54 PM   #2
Robb Wolf
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Are we talking weighted pull-ups? You might try jumping above the bar and lowering into the problem area with supra-maximal loads...only 5% above current max should be enough. One day per week and perhaps 10x1.

Rope climbs really seem to help my dead hangs as well.
"Survival will be neither to the strongest of the species, nor to the most intelligent, but to those most adaptable to change."
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Old 07-23-2007, 07:22 PM   #3
Elliot Royce
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I'm no Robb Wolf but have you been doing C&Js? I was pretty muscular when I started O lifting but the development of my upper back muscles has been pretty amazing since I started doing heavy pulls.
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Old 07-24-2007, 01:37 PM   #4
Rick Deckart
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I make no claim that the following bits with cure your weakness but it is something to consider/try; see if it makes a difference.

If the top portion of the pull-up is weak spent more time in and/or add higher loads to this part of the pullup, for example you could try

these are basically pull-ups with isometric holds at three positions, usually something around at the top, around 90 degree elbow angle and around 120 degree elbow angle. One rep looks like this: do a pullup, hold at the top for 5 second, lower to deadhang, do another pullup, lower to 90 degrees, hold 5 seconds, lower to deadhang, do another pullup, lower to 120 degree and hold for 5 seconds. That's one rep. It is easy to spent more time in the top hold, say 9 seconds and 3 seconds in the two other isometric holds. I wouldn't do these to often though, something like 3 reps x 3 sets^ after a thorough warmup is a good start.

partial pullups
just limit your pullups to the part from 90 degree to the top, this will allow you to do more pullups in exactly the range you need, infact you should be able to add some weight to the pullups and still hit your usual reps, don't go overboard, 3--5kg is okay for a start. A max rep set is a good finisher once per week after your usual pull-up routine. I have seen some people doubling their pullup numbers instantly with partials (>20 instead of 10 from a deadhang).*

weighted band assisted pull-ups
place a band, for example a small or average band over the bar. Use a foot or knee to deload the pullup. You can add as much weight to a belt as needed, so that the bottom part of the pull up feels like a usual pull-up. The top part is now more difficult and again you work the range you need to work.

do a max rep set with straps, this will take grip strength out of the equation. Are you able to do more pullups is clean fashion? If so part of your problem is insufficient grip strength. If the grip gets tired one often starts to 'batwing'# during later reps, this means poorer leverage for the back muscles.

^if 3 x 3 is to hard, which is quite possible start with 2 x 3...

* Of course I talk about partial pullups (20 partials vs 10 deadhangs)! This is not surprising, less time under tension per pullups as they are faster done as partials. Also the transition from >90degree and <90degree elbow angle, which makes deadhangs hard, is not asked for...

# I will try to find a photo of somebody batwinging... somebody batwinging hyperextends the otherwise straight wrists to cope with a tired grip, the arms now look like batwings...
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Old 07-24-2007, 03:11 PM   #5
Pat McCarthy
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Thanks for the replies, guys!

Robb, I am actually OK with weighted pull-ups as I usually keep those to sets of 3. It is more of an issue with higher reps of unweighted pull-ups. Once I get above 10 reps, I start to fatigue and the last part of my range of motion goes to hell. Good call on the rope climbs; I have a nice place to do those, so I will throw more of those in the mix.

Elliot, I love my olympic lifts, love them. My first program consisted of cleans, jerks, and front squats, and I have been doing them ever since. I probably over-emphasized them as my traps started to grow to my ears while everything else looked pretty normal. I was a goofy looking teenager. I do think more snatch work might help though.

Peter, that is exactly what I was looking for, especially the Frenchies. I will give all of those a go. I don't think it is a grip issue, but I'm working on that for my deadlifts anyways, so maybe I will see some improvement from that as well.

I just don't want to be one of those guys who says he can rip off 20 dead-hangs then you find out he only goes up and down 6 inches.
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Old 07-24-2007, 04:20 PM   #6
Chris Forbis
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I'm sure my ROM sucks on my pullups. I get my chin over the bar and that's it. This is chiefly because my pullup bar at home doesn't have sufficient headroom for me to get any higher than chin-above-bar level.
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Old 07-24-2007, 05:55 PM   #7
Robb Wolf
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Sounds good and loads of good advice from others...the rope climbs will really force you to finish that pull to your clavicle...that might be some good emphasis work as well...I think Peter mentioned that in addition to other options.
Keep us posted! 30 dead hangs or bust!
"Survival will be neither to the strongest of the species, nor to the most intelligent, but to those most adaptable to change."
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